September 16, 2021 | David F. Coppedge

Secrets Under the Earth Revealed

More water inferred deep underground;
ancient canyons and rivers detected; more


Remote sensing technologies and calculations are allowing geophysicists to “see” things hidden underground.

More Water Than Expected

A staggering store of water is revealed in Earth’s crust (Nature). Scientists at the University of Saskatchewan used modeling techniques to estimate the amount of groundwater contained in pore spaces of sedimentary rock. Their surprising conclusion  “estimated that the uppermost 10 kilometres of Earth’s crust holds nearly 44 million cubic kilometres of water.” headlines the fact that such a volume “makes groundwater, not ice sheets, the largest reservoir on land.” It also doubles previous estimates of water stored in the earth’s crust.

Unfortunately, both articles note that the water is not accessible by drilling. Most freshwater tapped by wells is between 1 to 10 km down. notes that the water is most likely a salty brine, and is disconnected from freshwater sources. It does mean, though, that geophysicists will have to be careful when considering policies for nuclear waste disposal and carbon sequestration not to pollute groundwater by mixing the two water sources. draws unwarranted conclusions about deep time and life:

Because these deep reservoirs can be disconnected from shallow aquifers, in some places the brine has been trapped for geologic spans of time. In addition to offering insights into past conditions on Earth’s surface, these ancient waters may also support microbial ecosystems still active today. Such deep subsurface biological communities inform mission planning for exploring potential habitable zones elsewhere in the solar system.

  • The open-access paper by Ferguson et al., “Crustal Groundwater Volumes Greater than Previously Thought,” is published in the American Geophysical Union journal Geophysical Research Letters 9 Aug 2021.

Earth, the water planet, is unique in the solar system. (Photo credit: Illustra Media)

Ice Age Signatures

‘MRI’ scan reveals spectacular ice age landscapes beneath the North Sea (British Antarctic Survey). In 2013, we relayed a “jaw-dropping” finding about a canyon under Greenland larger than the Grand Canyon (29 Aug 2013). It was found by ice-penetrating radar. Years later, a “super-grand canyon” was detected under Antarctica by this method (14 Jan 2016). Now, the British Antarctic Survey has used seismic methods to detect landforms under the North Sea.

Spectacular ice age landscapes beneath the North Sea have been discovered using 3D seismic reflection technology. Similar to MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) the images reveal in unprecedented detail huge seafloor channels – each one 10 times wider than the River Thames.

The reconstructed images in the article are quite detailed, showing grooves presumably carved by icebergs, huge “tunnel valleys” buried deep beneath the seafloor (some of them previously mapped), and channels carved under ice sheets by meltwater, called eskers. The article explains how these detailed images were made, and how they are interpreted.

3D seismic reflection technology, which was provided by industry partners, uses sound waves to generate detailed three-dimensional representations of ancient landscapes buried deep beneath the surface of the Earth, in a similar manner to how magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can image structures within the human body. The method can image features as small as a few metres beneath the surface of the Earth, even if they are buried under hundreds of metres of sediment. The exceptional detail provided by this new data reveals the imprint of how the ice interacted with the channels as they formed. By comparing these ancient ‘ice fingerprints’ to those left beneath modern glaciers, the scientists were able to reconstruct how these ancient ice sheets behaved as they receded.

Deep Time Without Deep Thought

Longest known continuous record of the Paleozoic discovered in Yukon wilderness (Stanford University). After a story about what earth was like hundreds of millions of Darwin Years ago, this story begins with old-fashioned field work. Scientists collected rocks along the Peel River in the Yukon, then brought them back to Stanford for analysis. There, students and scientists dutifully ran their processes of classification and mineralogy and fit them into the deep-time-and-evolution paradigm, never stopping to consider whether other paradigms might explain the data. They maintained their paradigm even when finding contradictions with previous scientific thought:

The data show low oxygen levels, or anoxia, likely persisted in the world’s oceans for millions of years longer than previously thought – well into the Phanerozoic, when land plants and early animals began to diversify. “The early animals were still living in a low oxygen world,” Sperling said. Contrary to long-held assumptions, the scientists found Paleozoic oceans were also surprisingly free of hydrogen sulfide, a respiratory toxin often found in the anoxic regions of modern oceans.

The article notes that it is rare to find a continuous record in geology lasting 120 million years anywhere on the earth. Did they witness evolution happening in this supposed deep-time record of the late Cambrian to middle Devonian? Graptolites (Cambrian marine animals with worm-like bodies) were found and fit into the narrative: “Because graptolites evolved a vast array of recognizable body shapes relatively quickly, the pencil-like markings left by the fossils of these colony-dwelling sea creatures give geologists a way to date the rocks in which they’re found.” In other places, early plants were found; those were fit into the narrative as actors making life difficult for the graptolites and driving them extinct.

Baloney Detector cartoons by Brett Miller commissioned by CEH.

Embarrassed Omissions

Notably, the article glosses over “the so-called Cambrian explosion of life” without commenting on how that falsifies evolution. The paper mentions “Cambrian explosion” only in the references, preferring the term “Cambrian radiation” without comment. Even though the strata under investigation were deposited following the Cambrian explosion in their view, they certainly could have mentioned evolutionary ancestors or transitional forms had they encountered any. Instead, they were focused on changes in oxygen and phosphorus content in the rocks, as if a rise in oxygen “drove” the evolution of later animals and the extinction of graptolites. The story is complicated, the authors show, with debates and interpretations not always consistent with one another. Indeed, their first sentence sets the stage, saying, “The extent to which Paleozoic oceans differed from Neoproterozoic oceans and the causal relationship between biological evolution and changing environmental conditions are heavily debated.” It seems silly to assume, “to get a new animal body plan, just add oxygen.”

Darwin puzzled over the sudden emergence of nearly 20 animal phyla but didn’t know half the story. The problem for evolution—the sudden appearance of body plans in the Cambrian explosion—was presented in Stephen Meyer’s book, Darwin’s Doubt, and portrayed in the Illustra Media documentary, Darwin’s Dilemma. Most scientists who try to answer it focus on the time available for evolution to work its magic. Meyer’s argument concerned the origin of genetic information to build eyes, legs, guts, and hierarchical body plans— regardless of how much time evolutionists allow for it. That question remains a stern challenge to Darwinian theory, not only at the base of the Cambrian, but in many other layers that present explosive appearance of new organisms without ancestors.

The data under the land and sea, and in the rock record, is available to all. Interpretations are built on worldviews.



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